Hemispheric securityDoD defends U.S. intelligence gathering in Venezuela
Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Friday defended U.S. intelligence gathering on Venezuela after U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido’s effort to inspire mass military defections earlier in the week fell short. Also on Friday, following an hour-long phone conversation with Russian president Vladimir Putin, President Donald Trump appeared to reject the assessments by the U.S. intelligence community about the Russian role and goals in Venezuela, and the blunt statements by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton about Russia’s involvement in Venezuela in support of the besieged incumbent Nicolas Maduro.
Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan defended U.S. intelligence gathering on Venezuela after U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido’s effort to inspire mass military defections earlier in the week fell short.
“I don’t feel like we have an intelligence gap. I think we have very good reporting,” Shanahan told reporters Friday, when asked about a possible intelligence failure.
Also on Friday, following an hour-long phone conversation with Russian president Vladimir Putin, President Donald Trump appeared to reject the assessments by the U.S. intelligence community about the Russian role and goals in Venezuela, and the blunt statements by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton about Russia’s involvement in Venezuela in support of the besieged incumbent Nicolas Maduro.
A couple of days ago, Pompeo said that Maduro was on verge of fleeing Venezuela for asylum in Cuba, but that strong Russian pressure on him, coupled with Russian security guarantees for him and his entourage, persuaded him to stay and fight off the Guaido challenge.
On Wednesday, Bolton said that the Russian growing involvement in Venezuela has increased the stakes in the political outcome in that country. “There’s a lot at stake here for the people of Venezuela but for the hemisphere as a whole,” Bolton said.
Bolton went on to say that how Guaidó and the actions are being referenced in a serious problem.
“That’s really a major part of the problem here. People incorrectly refer to what Juan Guaidó is doing as a coup. He’s the legitimate president. He’s trying to take control of the government,” Bolton said.
“The coup here has been by the Cubans and the Russians who have sort of grafted themselves on to Venezuela. I think they’re running it in some sense more than Maduro is.”
Bolton added: “The main point to make here is that we’re not going to see the Russians take over a country in the western hemisphere, not directly, not through their surrogates the Cubans and that’s why President Trump yesterday suggested that if the Cubans don’t get off the body politic in Venezuela they’re going to face significant consequences on their own.”
But following his Friday phone call with Putin, Trump rejected the assessments of Pompeo, Bolton, and the U.S. intelligence community, and appeared to accept Putin’s assurances instead. Talking with reporters at the Oval Office on Friday afternoon, Trump said that Putin told him that Russia “is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela other than he’d like to see something positive happen for Venezuela.”
The situation on the ground in Venezuela remains unclear. Guaido, who the United States and some fifty countries recognize as the legitimate president of Venezuela, had called for a military uprising this week to topple the government of Nicolas Maduro. The uprising failed to push the military into rebellion, but was followed by clashes between protesters and police in cities across the country, which led to the death of at least one person.
Guaido on Friday called for protesters to gather outside military bases Saturday to try to persuade soldiers to support them. He has also called for staggered industrial action leading to a general strike.
Shanahan met Friday at the Pentagon with top U.S. military officials about the situation in Venezuela. He did not suggest any moves toward a U.S. military intervention, but repeated the Trump administration stance that all options are “on the table.”
Shanahan said the meeting was to make sure the U.S. national security leadership was in “alignment” on potential outcomes in Venezuela.
VOA reports that Maduro has clung to power in Venezuela, calling on the country’s armed forces to oppose “any coup plotter” after Guaido failed to win defections from military leaders. At a televised event Thursday with the military high command, the embattled Maduro urged the military to “keep morale high in this fight to disarm any traitor, any coup plotter.”
Guaido, the National Assembly leader, declared himself the country’s interim president in January, saying Maduro’s election in December was a fraud.
Guaido has been recognized by the United States and about fifty other countries as the legitimate leader of the South American nation, but he has not been able to nudge Venezuela’s socialist president from office.
Millions of Venezuelans — exhausted by out-of-control inflation, severe food and fuel shortages, lack of medical care, and periodic blackouts — have fled the country.
Maduro has accused Guaido of trying to carry out a U.S.- and Colombian-supported coup and says the opposition will fail.
He said demonstrators will be prosecuted “for the serious crimes that have been committed against the constitution, the rule of law and the right to peace.”